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Israel Corp. to Invest up to $100M More in Project Better Place EV Efforts; Agassi Pushing PBB for the US

Israel Corp., Israel’s largest holding company, will invest another $15.5 into Project Better Place (PBB) in addition to the $7.5 million already in. The company said it would invest up to $100 million in the venture designed to deploy a regional and global infrastructure to support electric vehicles on a country-by-country basis. (Earlier post.)

Israel Corp.’s announcement to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange of the additional funding followed a presentation to the Israel Corp. board of the Better Place budget, including milestones and a fund-raising plan. Idan Ofer, Chairman of Israel Corp., is serving as Chairman of the Board of Project Better Place.

So far, Project Better Place has signed deals with Israel (earlier post) and Denmark (earlier post).

According to Globes, Project Better Place plans to launch a pilot with a few cars in Israel by year-end, and expand to several dozen more cars during 2009. The pilot will precede final development of regular electric cars by the Renault Nissan Alliance, which is partnering with Project Better Place.

In late June, Shai Agassi, founder and CEO of Project Better Place; Dominique Thormann, senior vice president of Nissan North America; and Torben Holm of DONG Energy A/S, Project Better Place’s partner in Denmark, testified before the US House of Representatives Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

Agassi outlined the Project Better Place business plan and its potential in the US. Adopting a model similar to that of the cell phone, Agassi said,

...we rely not on a premium-priced new car model available only to a small part of the driving public. Instead, we offer a free or nearly free car and charge current operating costs on an ongoing basis—enabling all car owners to make the gasoline to electricity transition.

For the price of two months worth of oil, some $100 billion, we can put in place the infrastructure needed to power the nation’s cars and end this oil dependence. Of that $100 billion, moreover, some $80 billion will go into jobs that, by their nature, can only be performed in the United States—the construction of the infrastructure itself.

...This is not a moment for incrementalism, but for transformative thinking. Instead of exclusively oil, let’s enable our cars to run on electricity generated from a diversity of sources – and at the same time enable much greater flexibility in the grid by growing energy storage that can bridge intermittent renewable sources like solar, wind and tidal. How do we make these diverse energy sources relevant to transportation? We find a formula to get our automobiles onto the grid.

Better Place, said Agassi, proposes deploying a ubiquitous network of charging spots, sufficient to support single-charge, all-electric trips of 120 miles or less.

Better Place will also deploy range extension for long trips in the form of battery exchange stations&mdsah;automated, mechanical battery swap points—on major arteries linking urban areas. That makes the electric vehicle just as relevant for our longer driving trips.

...For the subscriber, just as with cell phone calling programs, there will be a menu of plans to suit different driving habits.

Agassi said that Project Better Place is in “active discussions” with more than 30 other countries, and with dozens of regions, provinces, states and large cities.

Many of those discussions, both in the US and globally, are well advanced. We anticipate that four to six other countries or regions will—in the coming months&mdsah;announce their intentions to take up the Better Place model, just as Israel and Denmark have done.

There is no doubt that this progress has been helped along by the anxieties arising from the spike in oil prices. But our progress is not dependent on high gas prices. The Better Place model happens to have even greater appeal in a world of $4-per-gallon gas. But the model works—even when prices are drastically lower.

And just as it will work for Israel, Denmark and the other regions and localities we expect to come on line soon, it will work for the United States. Across this country, countless localities and regions present the same characteristics that make the model an appropriate fit elsewhere: density of population, reliance on personal vehicles, mature traffic infrastructures, all leading to in-built congestion. And as these localities and regions are built out, connecting them into a truly national grid becomes more and more feasible.

In his testimony, Thormann said that Nissan’s goal is to bring to market in the United States a fully electric automobile before the end of 2010.

At first, the number of vehicles will be relatively small but we plan to have a truly mass market vehicle available in the US by 2012. These electric vehicles will be cars the consumer will be happy to drive. They will have a range that will get them comfortably to work and back home with all the comfort and features they are used to today. They will handle highway speeds and permit the driver to comfortably merge into highway traffic. The acceleration will surprise many and make the vehicles fun to drive. As the market grows, different types and sizes of vehicles will be launched.

Holm of Dong Energy said that they have a very high degree of confidence that this model can and will work in Denmark.

We have also very high—but we believe quite realistic—expectations of the benefits this model will bring, for emissions, energy efficiency and individual consumers.

We have estimated, for example, that even if all of the electrical charging of cars was sourced from coal-fired power plants, net CO2 emissions would still decline by half because electric motors are 3-4 times more efficient than either gasoline or diesel ones. The more wind power we have, the higher the CO2 emissions improvements will be.

...both DONG Energy and the Danish government strongly support efforts to transform our transportation infrastructure from gasoline to electricity. There are, of course, supply constraints at present both from the auto manufacturing industry and amongst battery producers that we are working to address. There is also work underway to ensure that Denmark’s public policy framework works in favor of—or at least not counter to—this model. But we believe these challenges are surmountable. Indeed, we believe they must be surmounted if we are to break free from our oil dependency and secure the environmental, security and consumer benefits that this transformation can bring.

(A hat-tip to MannyGo!)


Other Neil

Once again, lots of comments but no one discussing technical and cost issues I raised earlier.

As Roger Pharm correctly put it, the problem is that we should be investing this $ and HYPE into known feasible alternatives such as wind, solar and domestic battery R&D.

If PBP fizzles out, which given the lack of technical and economic feasibility it will, then investors and consumers will grow more skeptical about real alternatives. The end result is that we will be worse off.


Other Neil:

Shut up and drink your cool aid!

PHEVs offer the ability to finally escape from Big Oil - we should grab that opportunity if possible. With electricity for short trips, that will drop liquid fuel use by 80% or so. That also means that the price of liquid fuel will be much less important to the consumer, so E85 or biodiesel would work fine. Even renewable methane or NG (as T. Boone Pickens suggests).

PBP is not an escape from Big Oil. It enforces a technology standard where none is necessary or needed. (Think of the back room politics that will ensue to determine which battery chemistry these packs would employ -- that should be enough to make one run screaming from this idea all on its own.)

Other Neil

Not sure if it was clear but I am completely on board with PHEV's. This is the dominant move in transportation for the next 20 years. The Volt is right on target. Its all about investing our resources in the batteries and then independent of that generating electricity from renewable sources.

It is the PBP project that is out of touch with reality.


You want a better plan?

Here's a better plan:

1. Build PHEVs.

2. Allow for NG fueling as well as liquid fuel. This allows for a low-cost fuel as well as an interface with the existing infrastructure.

3. Technology development over time will naturally morph this initial design into a vehicle which is most favorable, be it BEV, hydrogen (unlikely), methane, biobutanol, biodiesel, or whatever.

4. Try to REMOVE subsidies from ALL fuel sources, rather than supporting alternatives. (This includes letting Exxon and BP fund the energy wars needed to access oil fields.) Let the market work.

5. Tax roads with a tire tax or toll roads. Don't create some inefficient system (like PBP) just so you can harvest tax money.


They should focus on geographically restricted areas first:

Exactly. PHEVs offer much better price/performance than battery swapping. Only if battery swapping is very rare (as it would be on most islands) does PBB make much sense. I wish Agassi all the success in the world, but $100b of tax money for his battery-swapping infrastructure? Not when we have better alternatives. Get it working in Israel and some large islands and collect data, then we'll talk.

PHEVs are the obvious near-term choice. The long-term is uncertain. In 20 years maybe we have cheap, fast-charge batteries to make swapping and range extenders obselete. Or perhaps we wire our roads so you only need a 5 kWh to go almost anywhere. Or maybe we get cheap fuel cells, or some other breakthrough. We have exactly one approach which cuts petroleum usage 80-90% using our existing infrastructure. Let's focus on rolling that out ASAP. The future will sort itself out in due time.


Was wondering if I was on the right site...this is "green car congress" and not "bash any idea that comes along simply because I didn't think of it first, congress?" Gee whiz! Shai Agassi comes along with a bold idea, and this crowd is already knocking it.

By the way, what's soooooo bad about making a standard for battery sizing, installation, etc. Gasoline fill-up nozzles are standardized for decades and we don't hear any proprietary cries on that! PBB is a start to correct a problem no-one else is attacking in a very forthright manner. I give the guy a lot of credit for his plan and I hope it works out.

I think the basic problem with PHEVs as well as BEVs is battery cost. The Volt is going to cost over $30K. Many won't be able to afford this. The main breakthrough with PBP is the financing scheme that takes away those cost barriers. You get the car basically for free and just pay a monthly cost which is probably less than the cost of gas you would be paying with a normal car. You get to choose your mileage plan, just like a phone plan. For those advocating just going the do-it-yourself PHEV route you have to tell us how you are going to make them affordable. Please explain.


Battery size is a function of energy density, heat control and even the controller firmware. I doubt that standard size is possible given the various technologies involved.


Just to reiterate my point above (I forgot to sign off on it) on PBP financing vs high battery costs. In fact the Volt is probably going to be closer to $40k than $30K and in 2010 when the US is in deep because gas costs over twice what it costs now what percentage of people are going to be able to afford the Volt? How many people on the other hand would say yes to a car that doesn't cost them ANYTHING except a monthly fee equivalent to 2006-2007 gas prices? I would take that deal right now if I could!

Other Neil

Marcus, I agree with you that the Volt will cost $40K due to the 16kWH battery. A 16 kWh pack at today's $1000 per kWh price is $16K. The car will cost $15k - $20K to build. Moving to the Nissan/Renault PBP EV, the car will once again cost $15k - $20K and you will need a 16 kWH pack for a 40 mile range. Cost per vehicle is $35k, if there are 1,000,000 vehicles built to justify the infrastructure investment that is $35 billion USD. Who in this leasing scheme is paying for this? Are you suggesting the leasee only pays for the electricity charge to recharge?


@other Neil,

You're right on the economics. However, what if we just suspended two Pentagon projects - say, missile defense and JSF - for two years and used that $20B/year to subsidic battery packs at 75% discount? That could enable us to put ~2M PHEV or BEVs on the road every year for two years.

Now that's change we could believe in...

other Neil

Now you are talking. I suggest using that cash on a $ per domestically researched, designed and produced battery cell. That lowers the cost of domestically produced batteries. Let the car companies develop their PHEV programs with that battery pack cost in mind. This would spur investment in domestic battery companies.


Other Neil, here is a quote from Agassi

"Therefore, we rely not on a premium-priced new car model available only to a small part of the driving public. Instead, we offer a free or nearly free car and charge current operating costs on an ongoing basis – enabling all car owners to make the gasoline to electricity transition. "

It is lifted from here:

Dollared, you are dreaming if you think the free market privateers in power are going to give up their arms contracts to pay for your battery. That's change that's never going to happen!

Old Neil

The attractive part to me about PBP isn't the battery swapping, it's the charging stations. I know from my own experience that a few well placed electrical sockets can improve the utility of my very short range EV tremendously. It makes the effective range considerably longer and reduces flat battery anxiety.


Here are a few more details:


Other Neil:

Sorry for the sarcastic e-mail. Your posts always seem to make sense here. I was sarcastically chiding you for not drinking the PBP cool aid, and then started ranting away without indicating that my ADD had turned to other matters.

My apologies.


In late 2009, a highway capable Zenn car that is OEMed from a major car company (e.g. Ford or Toyota) as follows:
• Will cost $25,000
• Have a range of 250 miles
• Recharges in 5 minutes in burst mode
• Recharges from a home outlet on 110/220 in 4 hours/2 hours
• Have a top speed of 80 mph.

Who needs the Volt or PBB?

other Neil

No problem, Jim wasn't sure if it was sarcastic.

Marcus, I read second hand that the Deutsche Bank report had one paragraph where they pulled out some crazy $ per mile figure with no analysis. I have not seen the whole analysis so I would have to read it for myself to weigh in but as this is central to the economic discussion, I'll take the homework assignment.

Thanks all for the constructive discussion - time for me to move on.


Other Neil:

I don't think anyone has seen the full analysis. Some of the Deutsche guys quote 35 cents per mile (which isn't actually all the great, given the hoops to jump through...)


EEStor is a hoax. I wish that wasn't the case, but it is. The EEStor folks thought a dielectric would maintain its value even under a large charge (or something like that) but it doesn't. The past 2 years have been them not wanting to admit this blunder. There is no joy from EEStor. But that's OK. We could build "good enough" PHEVs from NiMH batteries now, if we wanted to. We just have to want to. And maybe wait for the Cobasys patents to expire in a few years....


@Old Niel "The attractive part to me about PBP isn't the battery swapping, it's the charging stations."

Me too. And the recharging stations would work with PHEV so drivers of such wouldn't have to run their ICE as often. For long distance BEV travel there are other options; E-guideways & pusher trailers (just to name two).

Hell, the only time I go long distance is to take my sailboat up to the lake. I could easily put a genset in the boat and have it recharge my EV (when I get one) on the go.


The economic necessity of reducing oil consumption will force us to change quickly, those who are able to lead the way will be rewarded. Agassi and Pickens are both well positioned to take advantage of the situation. There is a missing element in both of their plans, electricity storage. That is the real prize.



It’s hard to believe that EEstor is a fraud. My info comes from the recent ZENN stockholders meeting as follows:

• EEstor is in the advanced stage of Commercialization with Zenn as the first customer delivery of an auto power unit at the end of 2008.

• An main stream OEM( negotiation under way) will style, build and sell (from the OEM’s distribution network) the ZENN that will be on a par with the Camary or Accord. This is a Co-Brand with the OEM; more then one platform is planned.

• Sales to Asia and Europe first then the US at the end of 2009.

• Lockheed Martin has signed a contract with EEstor to use their power technology in the military sector. I worked for Lockheed Martin and have great respect for them as an evaluator of technology. A fraud would not have gotten by those guys! We will see in a few months.

Tom Street

Buying a battery is like buying a tanker full of gasoline even if you will never need it. If I am not going to drive very far per year, why should I pay for thousands of cycles that I will never need. I would rather buy gas by the gallon as I would rather buy batteries by the cycle or by the fill up, so to speak.

I thought the ***real problem*** with NiMH batteries was that GM sold the patent rights for the ovonic battery that powered the EV-1 to Texaco. Now they will not allow anyone to make a NiMH battery > 20 maH, so battery packs have to be assembled from hundreds or thousands of cells. EV-1 used to go 80-120 miles between charges. US govt should nationalize that patent and compensate the patent holder. I'm sure they'd do it in a second if it was some kind of military technology.

Someone correct me if I'm wrong.


PHEV is freedom. PBB is bondage. I wanna own all of
my car.

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